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The Failure of Institutions and the Rise of a Culture of Meritocracy:: A Study of Unemployed Autoworkers in the US and Canada

Colloquium: Lunch Talk | October 17 | 12-1:30 p.m. | 223 Moses Hall | Note change in location

Victor Tan CHEN, UC Berkeley, IRLE

Canadian Studies Program (CAN)), Institute of Research on Labor & Employment

This talk is based on a crossnational comparative study of similar sets of unemployed autoworkers right across the US-Canadian border, in metro areas of Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario, during the economic crisis years of 2009 and 2010. The goal of my ethnographic study was to approximate an experimental design and isolate the effects of social policies and national culture. First, I find that not only do the content of policies matter, but also how they are implemented. Sluggish, bureaucratic, and antagonistic institutions of government, unions, and corporations failed workers in both countries, providing little except band-aids for their intractable labor-market problems. Second, I argue that a meritocratic ideology of individualism is becoming more influential even among unionized blue-collar workers, contrary to past work. The political and economic climate has changed in ways that are reshaping worker attitudes, I contend—especially in the institutionally weaker US.

RSVP by October 14 by calling Rita Ross at 510-642-0531, or by emailing Rita Ross at, 510-642-0531